I see many things which are similar to 2003
- Credit: Gary Day/Pinnacle
Farnborough, Leigh Genesis, Scarborough, Northwich Victoria, Margate – yes, the Football ‘Conference’ had a very different look when my Yeovil Town team won the title and promotion to the Football League back in 2003.
Eighteen years ago – wow, as the saying goes – ‘Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun’.
The Glovers had been trying to get into the League for more than 100 years.
They’d been blocked time and again by the old re-election system.
Even in 2002 we’d been told that there would be a second promotion place at last, through some play-offs. It didn’t happen.
Boston United finished top, and were docked four points for financial irregularities – the next season! Dagenham were second and we were third. Just missed out – again.
The Conference in those days was half full-time and half part-time. Yeovil were one of the full-time clubs.
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But before I came, most of the players had come from London – the handful of lads who actually lived in Somerset had to go up to London to train, not the other way around.
We signed a lot of mostly young lads who had been released from League clubs.
But they’d had a good grounding and they had something to prove. My son Lee was one of them.
We ended up creating our own ‘bubble’ there. The players lived in and around Yeovil, went out with local girls and quite a few got married.
To this day, many of them have stayed friends and still get together.
I’m proud at how many have stayed in the game – Lee obviously, Terry Skiverton, Darren Way, Gavin Williams, Adam Lockwood, Nick Crittenden and our two goalkeepers Chris Weale and Steve Collins all went into management or coaching.
One of our strikers, Kevin Gall, is also an agent, and a good one too.
We were told that we’d never win anything with youngsters. Or with two 5ft 6in central midfielders. That was red rag to a bull for Lee and Darren – they made sure that wasn’t going to come true.
In 2003, we won the Conference by 17 points and scored 100 goals doing it.
We were a very fit team, fitter than most. And we were relentless in the way we tried to play the game.
I don’t say all this to crow about it, but because at Plainmoor we’re trying to win the ‘National League’ all these years on, and I do see many things which are similar to 2003.
Don’t worry, nobody here is counting any chickens just because we’ve made a good start. But, just as back then, we have a very tight group, with a strong team spirit – a lot of young lads living in and around the Bay, with a few older lads as well.
We are fit, and we’re developing that same relentless style of play. We’re not perfect, of course we’re not, and we’re working very hard to keep improving.
But we’ve got to, because look at how the ‘Conference’ has changed since 2003.
Clubs like Luton, Oxford, Lincoln, Mansfield, Bristol Rovers, Leyton Orient and Tranmere Rovers have dropped in and gone up again.
In 2003, the ex-League clubs were Chester, Hereford, Halifax, Barnet and Southport, as well as Doncaster, who won the play-offs. They finally brought them in that year!
Barnet and Halifax are still around, but now it’s Notts County, Hartlepool, Stockport, Wrexham, Chesterfield, Aldershot, Yeovil themselves and, of course, Torquay.
By the way, in 2004 Doncaster won ‘League Two’, and we followed them up again at Yeovil in 2005, so there was nothing wrong with the quality there.
But this division now is stronger in depth, and in professionalism in all areas, which is why I believe so strongly that it should become the EFL Division Three.
And why I also believe that to suspend or stop the National League now would be devastating for football, and potentially very damaging for its own future.